Leicestershire’s police and crime commissioner was taken to an employment tribunal by his ethics committee after they alleged he closed down the group because they had raised concerns about comments he made condemning Black Lives Matter, it has been revealed.
Rupert Matthews, the Conservative PCC for Leicestershire, said after his election in 2021 that on his third day in office he banned his staff from contact with Black Lives Matter groups in an online meeting in which he criticised the UK branch of the organisation.
His seven-person ethics, integrity and complaints committee, set up to help the PCC scrutinise the local police force, wrote to Matthews expressing concern his comments undermined the work of Leicestershire police, and could be a breach of his duties to consult all aspects of the local community.
Soon after this, Matthews wrote to the group saying he had decided to close the committee.
The group were in the process of taking the case to an employment tribunal, claiming they were unlawfully dismissed because of their statements to Matthews. The case was settled out of court, with no admission of liability, at the end of last year.
A former member of the committee, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Guardian: “Our concern was the feeling that he was really undermining the work the police were trying to do around inclusion, and particularly around the policing of different communities in Leicester.
“We were also concerned that it didn’t really fit with his duties to consult with all different aspects of the community, and that he didn’t take his responsibility seriously.
“It is obvious in a force like Leicestershire that an awful lot of our work was looking at diversity, particularly racial diversity, its impact in relation to subjects like force recruitment or stop and search data,” the former committee member added.
“Quite frankly, we felt we would be associated with [Matthews’ comments] as members of the ethics committee, so we had to challenge it, but to do so internally.”
According to the 2021 census, 59% of people in Leicester are from minority ethnic backgrounds, making it one of two “super-diverse” cities in the UK, where most people are from black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.
Matthews denied he closed down the committee because of its concerns about his stance on Black Lives Matter, and said it was because the committee’s terms of reference were “far too broad and not focused enough”.
The ethics committee, established by the area’s first PCC in 2012, scrutinised Leicestershire police on issues such as stop and search, recruitment practice, the interface of mental health and policing, as well as examining individual complaints made against the police.
It was made up of a range of local residents from different professions, who completed a formal application process, followed by interviews and police vetting. They met four times a year and scrutinised data and writing reports for which they were paid a yearly allowance of just over £2,000 each.
The former committee member said Matthews’ decision to get rid of the committee came out of the blue. They said: “There was no process. He just simply said he’s decided to close the committee. We responded and said, ‘What do you mean by closed?’ to which we have never received a reply.
“I think all of us were shocked and upset, and I think we all felt the work we were doing was important. We don’t think we were revolutionising policing, but we felt we were making a small difference.”
Matthews is in the process of setting up a new committee, called the ethics and transparency panel, which “is better in sync with the commissioner’s police and crime plan and the high standards expected”, his office said.
In a statement, Matthews said: “I recognise they felt aggrieved by the dissolution of the committee on which they sat but find it very disappointing that as former members of a committee focused on ethics and integrity, they felt it appropriate to seek financial recompense from the public purse.
“The committee met four times a year at most and obviously I did not believe the voluntary committee had any employment status. I would like to make it absolutely clear that my decision to wind up the former committee has nothing to do with political allegiances, or challenge to my approach.”
Matthews said he chose to settle the matter in order to “curtail the financial cost of a tribunal” and added he was “disappointed that no former members applied to join my newly constituted ethics and transparency panel, which I invited them to do”.
“While of course the financial impact of this will be included in the annual statement of accounts, for complete transparency I can confirm that each member of the committee received £8,000,” he said.